The United States has become an exceedingly conservative country over the past 40 or so years. It is so far to the right politically that one can argue that the current president who seemingly represents the left is more conservative than the Republican president 40 year ago, Nixon. Nixon’s policies such a founding the EPA, pulling out of Vietnam, Court appointees, and détente with China would all peg him to the left of Obama. Despite this, in a stunning departure from historical reality, the right constantly charges Obama with being socialist, communist and worse. None of these charges has even the slightest degree of basis in fact, yet they continue. What the hell is going on? How did we get here?
I have a theory that at least should be thought about.
Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.
Perhaps the nature of the corporate environment has played a key role in paving the way for and culturally normalizing the conservative swing the USA has experienced. For the middle span of the 20th Century, corporations operated under conditions where they were expected to be profitable, but also operate in the best interests of all its stakeholders, not just stockholders. These stakeholders were comprised of customers, employees and the communities where they operated in addition to the stockholders. This formed a deep social contract with business, the country and its citizens and became the operational ethos during that time. It was the time when the United States had its greatest standing relative to the rest of the World. It was the ethos that allowed the middle class to rise to prominence and vibrancy. It was the ethos that ultimately opened the door to progress and social change that benefited everyone.
This ethos is dead, and it has been replaced with an entirely different social contract.
So the question is, do corporate executives, provided they stay within the law, have responsibilities in their business activities other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible? And my answer to that is, no they do not.
– Milton Friedman
The true depth of the issue is the capacity of American voters to time and time again vote opposite to their own personal best interests. It is virtually a form of self-abuse. They have consistently voted for governance that hurts them, their families and the communities where they live. These are the so-called values voters. They consistently vote on issues such as abortion, race, guns, God and gays. They consistently get the shaft economically from their employers and the government. At the same time their employers are benefiting from the same decisions that hurt these voters.
Perhaps another component is playing a key role in this dynamic. We are creating a national climate that harkens to the nature of our corporate culture. The same dynamic that is burying the middle class in lower wages, debt and reduced social mobility is playing out in the public and private sphere. Are our dysfunctional workplaces paving the road for normalizing the dysfunction in our public lives? The loss of job security and general economic malaise offered to the rank-and-file corporate employee is virtually identical to the sort of governance offered by the GOP and the associated swing to the right by the democrats (the so-called liberals). Could it be that corporate life is simply paving the road for the sort of government envisioned by Grover Norquist (and Milton Friedman)? At the very least, the two have a deeply symbiotic relationship.
I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.
– Milton Friedman
Beginning in the 1970’s business began to adopt a different vision as an operating principle. The Chicago economic school revolted against the social contract and placed return to the stockholders as the only principle for business. All other stakeholders were deemed unimportant and outside the responsibility of business. The only other stipulation was to play by the “rules”. Over time, the Nation’s laws have been modified to adopt these principles and allow their operation to be even more profitable (or at the very least money makers for the ruling class). Businesses still play by the rules, even if they are writing these rules via forms of legalized bribery. This bribery has been legalized through the Supreme Court’s ironically named Citizen’s United case. They follow the rules, but the morality of their actions is unquestionably dark and self-serving.
The people who can destroy a thing, they control it.
We have seen greed and viscous self-interest replace socially conscious management. Gone are businesses and businessmen being pillars of society. We have entered into a period where modern day Robber Barons rule our country. The question is what came first, the conservative political movement or the greedy business principles? To what extent are they the same thing? Or do they exist in a symbiotic relationship, self-reinforcing their capacity to damage our Nation so that a few people can siphon their fortunes from the carcass of the once great Nation? So did Friedman’s perverse ideas lead the way, or did the spirit of the National Review and Nixon’s petty tyranny give birth to the Reagan revolution?
The real heart of the votes that allow conservative movement’s rule is the simmering hatred of the Old South that forms the backbone of the Republican majority. This has formed a coalition that feeds off of deep racial hatred and fear coupled with money and greed from the top of the corporate food chain. Our politics serves the interests of the rich and they have turned the seething historical hatred and racism to the dark purpose of sustaining their stranglehold on the Nation’s wealth.
Maybe the end of this reign of terror is in sight?
On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.
– Jack Welch (2009, Mr. Rank and Yank)
Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy…your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.
– Jack Welch (2009, Mr. Rank and Yank)
The single thing that seems to be at the core of the philosophy we have adopted as a Nation is the inherently short-term horizon for all decisions. As a Nation we no longer act strategically, everything is tactical. Companies are run on the basis of the quarterly report, and investors will divest themselves once the purpose of maximizing their take has been fulfilled. They turn their attentions to the next victim. Our government is equally short sighted and it is arguable that the longest time horizon available is the four-year presidential cycle, with the annual budget or biannual congressional elections forming a stronger basis for the time horizon that matters. These all seem long to the manic pace that business life and death runs at. We act as if we have no future and perhaps we don’t.
If you want a new tomorrow, then make new choices today.
The question is whether we can change our ways? Could a different business ethos help pave the way? Would our business leaders stand for a future where they make less money and take more responsibility for the future? The bottom line would be measured in more than dollars, but in customers, prospering employees and a society that values their work. It would be a much better future than we are currently creating.
Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.
Free enterprise cannot be justified as being good for business. It can be justified only as being good for society.